People who parent after loss are heroes. Some already had children that they continue to care for and others go onto have children after their loss. Either way, I look at the bravery it takes to put one foot in front of the other, to love with your whole heart even when it is broken, and to be completely vulnerable again.
Children make us vulnerable in ways I couldn’t understand before going through the process of pregnancy … and loss … and pregnancy again. They stretch our human capacity for love to its limits, showing you what it truly means to love someone so much more than yourself. Someone who is their own person and will (hopefully) go on to live their own lives full of adventure and people. Or, as is my case and many others in the perinatal loss community, someone who wholly and completely steals your heart but whose life is out of your hands.
The utter vulnerability of it all can be terrifying. And yet, this is the human experience. Love and community and heartache and repair and repeat, repeat, repeat. Any loss mother I have talked to has told me the same thing, “I would do it again just to be able to love him/her.” I think that speaks to the power of the love over the loss' crippling pain.
Tomorrow I will be 25 weeks along with our son. He’s been kicking more noticeably lately. Swishing around alive, completely alive. We’ve had two growth scans so far to check on his progress and he remains on the big side (97th percentile!), which is a blessing in case he comes early. Each day that passes at this point adds an additional 3% survival rate. I celebrate him daily. I take moments throughout the day to really focus intention on my gratitude and joy about his life.
And now, as we pass more milestones of survival chances, the idea that I will get to parent him, actually parent him, becomes more and more a possible reality.
It’s this reality that has me looking around at all those parenting after loss. At the way they handle the biggest job in the world even when they’ve already lived the biggest fear in the job.
I was speaking with a mother who very recently lost her son midtrimester about how she was coming a long in these first months. Everything is jumbled and messy for her – when to take time to grieve, how to take care of her other daughters, how to move forward or not move forward. The familiarity of her grief is potent to me. But she also said that when her daughter is scared, she reminds her that her brother can help her be brave because she gets to do all the things he didn’t do. He will be there for them. He has not disappeared. He will be a reminder of grace and strength and bravery. Her ability to seamlessly blend this into conversation with her girls impresses me beyond end.
Another dear friend of mine lost a son midtrimester a year before our loss. She now has a second young son. Every time I see him he fills the room with joy. He is immeasurably joyous and adored. He shows the face of a child that comfortably knows his parents love him. And yet, my friend still yearns for her first son. She still wonders daily what it would be like to have them both. Each time she puts an outfit that she had purchased for him on her living son she tells him it is a hand me down from his brother. I love this. I know that one day she will run out of hand me downs, but the conversation will have been started. In a small way, the boys will be allowed to be siblings regardless of the distance between them.
I find these simple acts heroic. In the face of the greatest grief, with courage and humility and love, they continue forward. And not by replacing or forgetting or denying but by integrating and allowing space for their children and still feeling both sides of joy and pain.
I'm still thinking of ways to tell our son about his brother and sister. I’m still working through how to describe his mom’s ability to be completely in love with him and completely yearning for them. I am still trying to come to terms with the fact that he will not live as the youngest of three but an only child or the oldest (possibly). I’m still picking up the broken pieces of my heart so they don’t fall into his lap.
I can’t wait to meet him. Part of me believes that when I do, I’ll know better how to be the parent he needs. When I see his face, I’ll know how to do these things too. Because I will be their mother and his, and he will need different things from me. And I’ll use every bit of me to be the best for the three of them.
This is not the story I imagined for us. But this is our story.
We are entering a new season again. The holidays are here. Everywhere. I’m trying to wrap my mind around the next couple months. Trying to figure out what survival tactics are needed, how to calm the anxiety, how to reconcile the longing feeling, how to replace the plans I had with the ones I get.
We started our stimulation medication for IVF the week after Christmas last year. I can remember leaning over to Dan after we had stuffed ourselves with a third family Christmas dinner and saying, “This could be our very last year without babies.” Those words hang in the air even now. They didn’t float away with hopeful wistfulness, they hung heavy settling into the couch waiting to be fulfilled.
I wanted twins. I wanted both embryos to take. I wanted everything that came with loving two and logistically caring for two. Twins felt like the ultimate reward – the absolute reason this had to be so hard was so that we could end up with two. The day after we saw both hearts flickering on the ultrasound screen I began planning for the holidays.
The babies were due in September so the holidays would be their first adventures. I earmarked an easy to carry play yard for Dad’s lake house at Thanksgiving, smaller portable bouncy chairs to take to Mom’s, a sturdy playpen that could double as bassinettes for overnight at Dan’s Dad’s farm. I researched ways to tandem breastfeed - how to do it in public or was it better to pump before gatherings. I decided to throw myself full-fledge into twin-momdom and put coordinating Christmas outfits and Halloween costumes on my Etsy to buy list. It was early to be planning, but I didn’t care – all my dreams were coming true.
Until they didn’t. Until we lost them. There are days even now, seven months later that I still remember with absolute clarity the exact moment each little body was handed to me. I can remember my body labor-worn and bleeding crashing against a bed to be handed the most delicate humans I’d ever seen. There are moments where I can still see my daughter’s heart beating and I cry out – why couldn’t we save her!
This year for Halloween, I put up our decorations, I oohed and awwed at people’s baby costume pictures on Facebook, I emotionally prepared to smile at each person that came by … until I just couldn’t. Moments before the doorbell rang with trick or treaters I turned all the lights out and wept. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I gave up on Halloween and decided to try harder for Christmas and Thanksgiving.
Yesterday, I swapped out my fall decorations for Christmas ones. It’s a week early but I wanted to get it done. I moved things around from last year. But it still feels the same. Nothing feels externally changed – everything is proceeding like normal. Because we never had a Christmas with them. We never had a Thanksgiving or Halloween. So the worst part of this year is that everything is the same as always.
I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with this. While everyone is posting articles and queries about how to get through the holidays post political upset, I’m just trying to figure out how to hold it together when asked what I’m most thankful for. I’m just trying to practice my happy face. I’m wondering what to do if I start crying when we hand out presents. I'm staring at the only ornament that indicates that they were here.
In the grief world we talk a lot to people about how to create new traditions to survive holidays after the loss of a loved one. We talk about ways to keep their memories alive during the season. We talk about the right to choose whether or not you want to celebrate at all. I remember all of that being incredible helpful after we lost my sister and Dan’s mom. But losing babies is different.
They were going to be the changed tradition, the new memory, the extra logistics needed. And even though the table is set the same as last year and the tree has the same number of presents as before … it feels incomplete, not enough, heartbreakingly missing something.
I started writing in this blog to suss out my own experiences after losing our twins. To examine the grief at arm’s length and share it with anyone who needed to hear it – anyone who needed to borrow my words to describe their experience, or understand the experience of someone else they loved. After we passed the due date the writing seemed to wane. Each time I sat down I had nothing new to say except it still hurts. It feels really awful. I miss them so much my innards quake. And even with moments of hope and love scattered here and there the words I would’ve written the last couple months wouldn’t have healed either of us.
But today I wanted to remind us that the holidays are about family. At least in my world they always have been. We never discuss politics at our holiday gatherings but apparently many families do – I’d encourage you to put it aside. Put it aside and remember who might be missing someone.
The holidays are hard for many people anyways. This year is gut-wrenchingly the hardest for me yet. I tell our story above because I will still look normal on the outside. This season I will decorate and celebrate with family, because that is all I have. That is all most of us have.
But honestly ... if someone just gives me a hug and says they wish my babies were here too I might just explode in gratitude.
Hi, I'm Tiffany. I believe in the power of stories to connect us to each other. I write about life after loss and all the love, longing, and learning that comes from it. Grief is big, love is bigger. My newest stories are about motherhood (after both infertility and loss). In my experience, love doesn't get bigger than motherhood.
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